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Cultivating Change: A Day with the High Atlas Foundation

Jonas Feit, HAF Intern


Our journey commenced early in the day, just outside the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) office. The sun had gently peeked over the horizon, and the burning heat that would inevitably follow had yet to make its presence felt. Standing in a loose circle with fellow newly arrived interns, we wondered what experiences lay waiting ahead of us. Guided by Yossef Ben-Meir, the founder of HAF, and Amina El Hajjami, Director of Programs, we piled into the waiting white van and, without hesitation, we took off down the road.

Not long after leaving the city of Marrakech and venturing deeper into the rocky terrain, we arrived at our first stop of the day: the Akrich tree nursery. Located on the grounds of a centuries-old Jewish cemetery, this historic site has now been repurposed into a space to grow fledgling trees and medicinal plants for later distribution by HAF. The nursery caretaker, Abderrahim, graciously showed us around the ancient grounds. It was here where we learned about the varieties of trees that HAF grows, such as carob, almond, walnut, fig, and many more.

These trees are distributed to farmers, schools, and local communities as a means of offsetting carbon and providing financial stability and upward mobility to those they benefit. A prime example is the carob tree, perfectly suited for Morocco's climate without the need for pesticides or complex irrigation systems. A mature tree can produce up to 500 grams of carob annually at 7 USD a gram. This can be a substantial and transformative source of income for local farmers. Medicinal plants such as thyme and rosemary are also grown here to be planted in the space between trees, providing an additional source of income while farmers wait for the trees to mature.

Fledgling carob trees at the Akrich tree nursery.

For our next stop, we did not have to travel very far. Visible from the Akrich nursery and connected by a newly built road funded by HAF is the Achbarou women's cooperative. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the warm-hearted women of the cooperative, who welcomed us in and invited us to share a meal with them. At the cooperative, we were able to see firsthand how the women use locally sourced wool to create beautiful rugs, which they sell as a source of income. This cooperative was established by HAF’s Imagine workshop, a program that focuses on bolstering the financial and educational empowerment of Moroccan women. Through this program and followed by HAF’s participatory approach, HAF closely collaborates with local communities to evaluate and prioritize their vital needs. After an assessment, HAF works hand in hand with the community to help fulfill these needs. Through the Imagine program, the local women of the Achbarou women's cooperative now have an additional income of 2,000 dirhams a month, marking a significant stride towards financial autonomy.

After our inspiring visit to Achbarou, we bid farewells and drove through the majestic peaks of the High Atlas mountains to the Tadmamt nursery. Situated on lands owned by Morocco’s Agency of Water and Forests, HAF has cultivated a successful nursery over the past two decades producing upwards of 140,000 trees and medicinal plants. As Yossef explained, the process has been slow in convincing the Agency that HAF can grow on these lands successfully. However, after years of hard work, HAF has been granted increasing amounts of land year after year, allowing the foundation to slowly but surely expand this nursery. This joint partnership between the Agency and HAF fulfills the goals of both organizations. By growing trees, Morocco comes closer to meeting its national multi-billion tree planting goal, and by allowing HAF to grow on these lands, HAF is able to distribute trees to benefit farmers, schools, and local communities. Currently, one third of HAF’s nurseries are located on land owned by the Agency of Water and Forests and HAF has plans to expand the Tamamt nursery to more unused terraces, increasing tree-growing productivity to 300,000 annually.

Amina talking with the caretaker for the Tadmamt tree nursery. HAF plans to expand the nursery to several more unused terraces in the near future.

Finally, after a long day of travel, we reached our final destination of the Aljamaan cooperative, a female and male cooperative that was restarted two months ago after its closure during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, we shared a lunch of tagine and couscous with members of the cooperative, and afterwards were able to witness firsthand a meeting between HAF and the local cooperative members on the construction of a new school building. The community has been in desperate need of a preschool for local children to attend, and the construction of one has a projected price of 30,000 USD. As a result of the meeting, HAF committed to funding 10,000 USD for the preschool and agreed to help draft a grant proposal to obtain the rest of the funding from Morocco’s National Initiative for Human Development.

Interns talking with members of the Aljamaan cooperative.

With the sun slowly setting behind us, we reentered the white van, ready for the long drive back to Marrakech. As we sat and watched the mountains steadily retreat into the distance, we took a moment to contemplate and reflect on the day's experiences. The interwoven work of environmental conservation, women's empowerment, and locally based community centered collaboration that we witnessed through the lens of HAF initiatives left a profound impact on each one of us, and once again we were reminded that meaningful change takes root slowly through dedication, unity, and a shared vision for a more sustainable future.

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